Republicans Raise the Stakes on Education with Controversial Bill

Republicans Raise the Stakes on Education with Controversial Bill

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Government specialist Richard Piatt reporting Senate Republicans are raising the stakes on education reform.

Today two major education bills, the so-called 'Omnibus bill' and Tuition Tax Credits, were combined into one proposal and passed to the full Senate for debate.

By combining the two bills, there is a risk both issues will die this session. Both call for significant reforms -- one requires a tax increase.

The proposal calls for major changes in Utah schools: accountability, stricter standards and more basics like math and English, for a start.

There are a lot of changes built in all at once; the 'omnibus bill' seems to strike a chord at the Capitol, coming with the recommendation of a coalition of business people.

"Right now a high school diploma is absolutely meaningless to an employer. We want to know what they know, now where they've been," says one employer.

But the Senate committee didn't stop there, voting near the end of a two-hour meeting to combine the omnibus bill with a Tuition Tax Credit proposal the Senate has already passed.

Many public school educators are livid. Now two bills they disliked seperately are one.

"That was a classic example this morning of pure, blatant politics. I feel bad about that," says Jordan School Board member Ralph Haws.

"We've never tried to hide the fact -- I've tried to be open and up front from the beginning -- that parental choice would be a part of education reform," says the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch.

However, the path is not a golden one for this mega-proposal. The reform package comes with a $30 million price tag -- a possible deal-killer for many in the House.

Republicans even admit the sell will be a tough one. Democrats outright reject it.

"We're only kidding ourselves if we think we can fund this without some kind of revenue enhancement," Hatch says.

"It really does jeopardize the good reforms that are called for in our opinion in the omnibus bill," says Rep. Brad Kind, D-Price.

"This simply creates a political conundrum. We can't support it. We won't support it," says Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park.

What kind of tax are lawmakers considering? It's still early, but some kind of income tax hike is emerging as a probable candidate.

Expect a major debate in the next two weeks.

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